Young and restful, with vague ambitions, vaguer jobs, and the vaguest of talents, slackers are beatniks without bongos, hippies without the Haight. You can find them in every generation in recent memory, and in their movie incarnations, you can usually find them in pairs: Slip and Sach of the Bowery Boys, Cheech and Chong, Bill and Ted, and, of course, Wayne and Garth, whose Wayne’s World and the new-to-video Wayne’s World 2 would be perfect encapsulations of the slacker ethos if only slackers could be bothered to have one.
In fact, these two films illuminate the touchstones of all other slacker-buddy movies. Pals Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) have non- jobs — hosting a rinky-dink public-access cable show — yet somehow make a living, even after moving out of their parents’ houses in the repetitive and generally unfunny WW2. They also confront and confound authority figures, speak via shorthand dialogue, and share an easy, intimate bond of unconditional acceptance — even if nobody else might accept them.
All these hallmarks began with the original slacker buddies, the Bowery Boys, titular stars of four dozen mostly comedic low-budgeters from 1946 to 1958. The first 10 years’ worth of their pictures starred Leo Gorcey as good-hearted teen tough-guy Slip Mahoney, with Huntz Hall as his dim-witted friend, Sach Jones. They shared comic adventures, hung around Louie’s Sweet Shop, and occasionally, as Sach put it, went out “lookin’ for jobs, tryin’ not to get ‘em.”
In the rambunctious Spook Busters and Blues Busters, two of the eight Bowery Boys movies on video, the guys go up against a mad scientist and a Machiavellian nightclub owner, respectively. The pair and their pals speak ’40s jive (peppered with malapropisms), and even when Slip gets exasperated with Sach, they still share all the affection of the Skipper and his little buddy, Gilligan.
In the late ’70s, counterculture comics Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong revived the concept of slacker buddies in their adorably dopey drug comedies. Their respective personas — amiably nervous barrio toker and laid-back latter-day hippie — came to film late in the decade after the team’s success with comedy albums. In their debut, Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke, they’re jobless musician wannabes who flummox an authority figure (narc Stacy Keach) and get laughs from simple, otherwise meaningless gestures and exchanges (“Hey, man.” “What?” “What?” “Oh”). Through encounters with cops, criminals, babes, and bozos, they’re always there for each other. The formula doesn’t change much in the giddy Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie, Nice Dreams, and the intermittently amusing Things are Tough All Over. The slapdash and self-indulgent Still Smokin’ finds the two playing themselves-well-to-do slackers hanging out and getting high in Amsterdam. But the movie’s so awful, the only way you’d enjoy seeing them stoned is with rocks.
Not so those high school slackers Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) of the delightfully time-travel comedy Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Living at home, with nebulous plans about forming a band if they could only get Eddie Van Halen, they oppose their authority-figure teacher and Ted’s hard-nosed dad, and speak in a inventive mutually decipherable code. They’re no more ambitious in the equally fantastical Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, in which they tour heaven and hell and, ironically, become musical megastars.
And irony is what these movies serve up best, as they set out to demonstrate how the stupidest (Bill and Ted), most immature (Wayne and Garth), most stoned-out (Cheech and Chong), or most socially undesirable (Slip and Sach) among us can triumph over staid old society. Wayne’s World: B Wayne’s World 2: D Spook Busters: B Blues Busters: B Up in Smoke: B+ Next Movie: B- Nice Dreams: B- Things Are Tough All Over: C Still Smokin’: F Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure: A Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey: A-